12 May marks the day in 1937 on which George Carlin was born in New York to an Irish immigrant father and an Irish-American mother. He is widely viewed as one of America’s most influential comedians. In 2004, Carlin was placed second on the Comedy Central list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, ahead of Lenny Bruce and behind Richard Pryor.
The first of his 14 stand-up comedy specials for HBO was filmed in 1977. His final HBO special, was filmed less than four months before his death in 2008. He was a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show during the three-decade Johnny Carson era, and hosted the first episode of NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’.
Carlin often attacked what he saw as the absurdity of social conventions, customs, and government practices. In one performance, he mocked the practice of raising one hand while swearing on a Bible to tell the truth by asking,
What would happen if you swore on an upside down backwards Chinese braille Bible with half the pages missing? Would that count?
Carlin was also a frequent critic of what he saw as a purposeful misuse of the English language. In one routine, he traced the evolution of the term “shell shock” to “battle fatigue” to “post-traumatic stress disorder” to describe the same condition.
In addition to his stand-up comedy, Carlin had a major success with his writing, his book, ‘Brain Droppings’, spent an incredible 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold 900,000 copies.